Naylor v. Securiguard, Inc., 091515 FED5, 14-60637
|Opinion Judge:||GREGG COSTA, CIRCUIT JUDGE|
|Party Name:||DONALD R. NAYLOR; ANTHONY JENKINS; JAMES E. BROWN; SANDRA A. SKIPPER; MICHAEL DARDEN; LAWRENCE F. HATTEN; BRANDON BOYD; DEMETRICK D. JOHNSON; CLINTON G. TEW; BETTYE C. JACKSON; WILLIAM M. HARVEY; SANCHEZ J. CLAYTON; MICHAEL GRIFFIN; JOHN T. STEWART; MEARLON COLEMAN; LAURA CHIASSON; JERRY M. SIMMONS; MARCUS HOPSON; TYRONE A. JOHNSON; RODNEY M. STRIC|
|Judge Panel:||Before REAVLEY, PRADO, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.b|
|Case Date:||September 15, 2015|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit|
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi
Meal breaks have been a cherished feature of the American workday since the Industrial Revolution transformed the life of workers more than a century ago. See generally Lunch Hour NYC, New York Public Library (June 22, 2012), http://www.nypl.org/audiovideo/lunch-hour-nyc (detailing the evolution of fixed meal hours since their introduction in the mid-1800s). Department of Labor regulations generally exempt meal breaks from pay requirements but specify that such breaks ordinarily last at least thirty minutes. The employer in this case scheduled thirty-minute breaks for meals but imposed traveling obligations that ate into the employees' time for meals. We must decide if a jury could find that, because of these obligations, the breaks are more like mere rest periods and thus compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Access to Naval Air Station Meridian is controlled by several gates located across the base. The United States Navy contracted with Defendant Securiguard, Inc. to provide guards for each gate, and Securiguard hired the plaintiffs to fill those positions. During the years at issue in this lawsuit, the guards usually worked eight-hour shifts with two scheduled thirty-minute meal breaks. Each meal break began when a Securiguard "relief officer" arrived at the gate in a company car. The guard then had thirty minutes to spend away from the guard post. During the break, the guards were required to remain armed and in uniform, which included a bulletproof vest.
Although the guards expressed a desire to eat at the gate or while sitting in the parked company car during the break, Securiguard-apparently fearful that the Navy would see the guards eating and believe they were shirking their security duties-prohibited them from doing so.1 Securiguard instead required the guards to travel to a designated break area on the base. The time required to reach the closest area varied depending on where the guard was stationed and which shift the guard was working. At the low end, guards posted at the "truck gate" could walk to a storage unit just a few yards away; guards posted at the "main gate" could drive less than a minute to the base security building; and guards posted at the "flightline gate" between 6:00 a.m. and midnight could go across the street to a fire station. At the high end, guards posted at the "housing gate" or working the graveyard shift at the flightline gate had an eleven or twelve minute roundtrip drive between the nearest location where they could eat. 2 The guards were required to use the company car to reach the locations not within walking distance, and while in the vehicle they were prohibited from eating, drinking, smoking, or talking on their cell phones.
Treating each thirty-minute break as a "bona fide meal period" for which the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require compensation, 29 C.F.R. § 785.19, Securiguard did not compensate the guards for this time.
In 2010, the Department of Labor investigated Securiguard and partially disagreed with that determination. It assessed a civil penalty based on its conclusion that one meal break was compensable because it took place outside a regular meal time. Securiguard maintained that its pay practice was correct but changed its policy from that point forward to allow the guards to take a single sixty-minute break rather than two thirty-minute breaks.
The agency investigation did not result in an award of back wages, and more than thirty guards brought this case under the FLSA seeking such damages.3 As this case seeks only retrospective relief, it focuses solely on the thirty-minute meal periods that Securiguard no longer provides. Neither side advances the position taken by the Department of Labor or otherwise distinguishes between the two meal breaks; the guards argue that both meal breaks qualifed as compensable time, whereas Securiguard contends that neither did.
The district court granted Securiguard's motion for summary judgment. It held that the FLSA requires compensation for a meal break only when an employer imposes "substantial duties or restrictions" during the designated time. Reasoning that "requiring employees to use company vehicles on lunch breaks can hardly be construed as a work duty" and that the company inured no benefit from the meal break, the district court found Securiguard's restrictions too...
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